THE STRING OF PEARLS by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest
XX Sweeney Todd’s Proceedings Consequent Upon the Departure of Tobias
We left the barber in his own shop, much wondering that Tobias had not responded to the call which he had made upon him, but yet scarcely believing it possible that he could have ventured upon the height of iniquity, which we know Tobias had really been guilty of.
He paused for a few moments, and held up the light which he had procured and gazed around him with enquiring eyes, for he could, indeed, scarcely believe it possible that Tobias had sufficiently cast off his dread of him, Sweeney Todd, to be enabled to achieve any act for his liberation. But when he saw that the lock of the parlour-door was open, positive rage obtained precedence over every other feeling.
‘The villain!’ he cried, ‘has he dared really to consummate an act I thought he could not have dreamt of for a moment? Is it possible that he can have presumed so far as to have searched the house?’
That Tobias, however, had presumed so far, the barber soon discovered, and when he went into his parlour and saw what had actually occurred, and that likewise the door which led to the staircase and the upper part of the house had not escaped, he got perfectly furious, and it was some time before he could sufficiently calm himself to reflect upon the probable and possible amount of danger he might run in consequence of these proceedings.
When he did, his active mind at once told him that there was not much to be dreaded immediately, for that, most probably, Tobias, still having the fear before his eyes of what he might do as regarded his mother, had actually run away; and, ‘In all likelihood,’ muttered the barber, ‘he has taken with him something which would allow me to fix upon him the stigma of robbery: but that I must see to.’
Having fastened the shop-door securely, he took the light in his hands, and ascended to the upper part of his house—that is to say, to the first floor, where alone anything was to be found.
He saw at once the open bureau with all its glittering display of jewels, and as he gazed upon the heap he muttered, —
‘I have not so accurate a knowledge of what is here, as to be able to say if anything be extracted or not, but I know the amount of money, if I do not know the precise number of jewels which this bureau contains.’
He opened a small drawer which had entirely evaded the scrutiny of Tobias, and proceeded to count a large number of guineas which were there.
‘These are correct,’ he said, when he had finished his examination, ‘these are correct, and he has touched none of them.’
He then opened another drawer, in which were a great many packets of silver done up in paper, and these likewise he carefully counted and was satisfied they were right.
‘It is strange,’ he said, ‘that he has taken nothing, but yet perhaps it is better that it should be so, inasmuch as it shows a wholesome fear of me. The slightest examination would have shown him these hoards of money; and since he has not made that slight examination, nor discovered any of them, it seems to my mind decisive upon the subject, that he has taken nothing, and perchance I shall discover him easier than I imagine.’
He repaired to the parlour again and carefully divested himself of everything which had enabled him so successfully to impose upon John Mundel, and replaced them by his ordinary costume, after which he fastened up his house and sallied forth, taking his way direct to Mrs Ragg’s humble home, in the expectation that there he would hear something of Tobias, which would give him a clue where to search for him, for to search for him he fully intended; but what were his precise intentions perhaps he could hardly have told himself, until he actually found him.
When he reached Mrs Ragg’s house, and made his appearance abruptly before that lady, who seemed somehow or another always to be ironing and always to drop the iron when anyone came in very near their toes, he said, —
‘Where did your son Tobias go after he left you tonight?’
‘Lor! Mr Todd, is it you? you are as good as a conjurer, sir, for he was here; but bless you, sir, I know no more where he is gone to than the man in the moon. He said he was going to sea, but I am sure I should not have thought it, that I should not.’
‘To sea! then the probability is that he would go down to the docks, but surely not tonight. Do you not expect him back here to sleep?’
‘Well, sir, that’s a very good thought of yours, and he may come back here to sleep, for all I know to the contrary.’
‘But you do not know it for a fact.’
‘He didn’t say so; but he may come, you know, sir, for all that.’
‘Did he tell you his reason for leaving me?’
‘Indeed no, sir; he really did not, and he seemed to me to be a little bit out of his senses.’
‘Ah! Mrs Ragg,’ said Sweeney Todd, ‘there you have it. From the first moment that he came into my service, I knew and felt confident that he was out of his senses. There was a strangeness of behaviour about him, which soon convinced me of that fact, and I am only anxious about him, in order that some effort may be made to cure him of such a malady, for it is a serious, and a dreadful one, and one which, unless taken in time, will yet be the death of Tobias.’
These words were spoken with such solemn seriousness, that they had a wonderful effect upon Mrs Ragg, who, like most ignorant persons, began immediately to confirm that which she most dreaded.
‘Oh, it’s too true,’ she said, ‘it’s too true. He did say some extraordinary things tonight, Mr Todd, and he said he had something to tell which was too horrid to speak of. Now the idea, you know, Mr Todd, of anybody having anything at all to tell, and not telling it at once, is quite singular.’
‘It is; and I am sure that his conduct is such as you never would be guilty of, Mrs Ragg; but hark! what’s that?’
‘It’s a knock, Mr Todd.’
‘Hush, stop a moment, what if it be Tobias?’
‘Goodness gracious! it can’t be him, for he would have come in at once.’
‘No; I slipped the bolt of the door, because I wished to talk to you without observation; so it may be Tobias you perceive, after all; but let me hide somewhere, so that I may hear what he says, and be able to judge how his mind is affected. I will not hesitate to do something for him, let it cost me what it may.’
‘There’s the cupboard, Mr Todd. To be sure there is some dirty saucepans and a frying-pan in it, and of course it ain’t a fit place to ask you to go into.’
‘Never mind that—never mind that; only you be careful, for the sake of Tobias’s very life, to keep secret that I am here.’
The knocking at the door increased each moment in vehemence, and just as Sweeney Todd had succeeded in getting into the cupboard along with Mrs Ragg’s pots and pans, and thoroughly concealing himself, she opened the door; and, sure enough, Tobias, heated, tired, and looking ghastly pale, staggered into the room.
‘Mother,’ he said, ‘I have taken a new thought, and have come back to you.’
‘Well, I thought you would, Tobias; and a very good thing it is that you have.’
‘Listen to me: I thought of flying from England for ever, and of never setting foot upon its shores, but I have altered that determination completely, and I feel now that it is my duty to do something else.’
‘To do what, Tobias?’
‘To tell all I know—to make a clean breast, mother, and, let the consequences be what they may, to let justice take its course.’
‘What do you mean, Tobias?’
‘Mother, I have come to a conclusion that what I have to tell is of such vast importance, compared with any consequences that might arise from the petty robbery of the candlestick, which you know of, that I ought not to hesitate a moment in revealing everything.’
‘But, my dear Tobias, remember that is a dreadful secret, and one that must be kept.’
‘It cannot matter—it cannot matter; and, besides, it is more than probable that by revealing what I actually know, and which is of such great magnitude, I may, mother, in a manner of speaking, perchance completely exonerate you from the consequences of that transaction. Besides, it was long ago, and the prosecutor may have mercy; but be that how it may, and be the consequences what they may, I must and will tell what I now know.’
‘But what is it, Tobias, that you know?’
‘Something too dreadful for me to utter to you alone. Go into the Temple, mother, to some of the gentlemen whose chambers you attend to, and ask them to come to me, and listen to what I have got to say; they will be amply repaid for their trouble, for they will hear that which may, perhaps, save their own lives.’
‘He is quite gone,’ thought Mrs Ragg, ‘and Mr Todd is correct; poor Tobias is as mad as he can be! Alas, alas, Tobias, why don’t you try to reason yourself into a better state of mind! You don’t know a bit what you are saying any more than the man in the moon.’
‘I know I am half mad, mother, but yet I know what I am saying well; so do not fancy that it is not to be relied upon, but go and fetch someone at once to listen to what I have to relate.’
‘Perhaps,’ thought Mrs Ragg, ‘if I were to pretend to humour him, it would be as well, and while I am gone, Mr Todd can speak to him.’
This was a bright idea of Mrs Ragg’s, and she forthwith proceeded to carry it into execution, saying, ‘Well, my dear, if it must be, it must be; and I will go; but I hope while I have gone, somebody will speak to you, and convince you that you ought to try to quiet yourself.’
These words Mrs Ragg uttered aloud, for the special benefit of Sweeney Todd, who, she considered, would have been there, to take the hint accordingly.
It is needless to say he did hear them, and how far he profited by them, we shall quickly perceive.
As for poor Tobias, he had not the remotest idea of the close proximity of his arch enemy; if he had, he would quickly have left that spot, where he ought well to conjecture so much danger awaited him; for although Sweeney Todd under the circumstances probably felt, that he dare not take Tobias’s life, still he might exchange something that could place it in his power to do so shortly, without the least personal danger to himself.
The door closed after the retreating form of Mrs Ragg, and as considering the mission she was gone upon, it was very clear some minutes must elapse before she could return, Sweeney Todd did not feel there was any very particular hurry in the transaction.
‘What shall I do?’ he said to himself. ‘Shall I await his mother’s coming again, and get her to aid me, or shall I of myself adopt some means which will put an end to trouble on this boy’s account?’
Sweeney Todd was a man tolerably rapid in thought, and he contrived to make up his mind that the best plan unquestionably would be to lay hold on poor Tobias at once, and so prevent the possibility of any appeal to his mother becoming effective.
Tobias, when his mother left the place, as he imagined, for the purpose of procuring someone to listen to what he considered to be Sweeney Todd’s delinquencies, rested his face upon his hands, and gave himself up to painful and deep thought.
He felt that he had arrived at quite a crisis in his history, and that the next few hours cannot but surely be very important to him in their results; and so they were indeed, but not certainly exactly in the way that he had all along anticipated, for he thought of nothing but of the arrest and discomfiture of Todd, little expecting how close was his proximity to that formidable personage.
‘Surely,’ thought Tobias, ‘I shall by disclosing all that I know about Todd, gain some consideration for my mother, and after all she may not be prosecuted for the robbery of the candlestick; for how very trifling is that affair compared to the much more dreadful things which I more than suspect Sweeney Todd to be guilty of. He is, and must be, from all that I have seen, and heard, a murderer—although how he disposes of his victims is involved in the most complete mystery; and it is to me a matter past all human power of comprehension. I have no idea even upon that subject whatever.’
This indeed was a great mystery, for even admitting that Sweeney Todd was a murderer, and it must be allowed that as yet we have only circumstantial evidence of that fact, we can form no conclusion from such evidence as to how he perpetrated the deed, or how afterwards he disposed of the body of his victim.
This great and principal difficulty in the way of committing murder with impunity—namely, the disposal of a corpse, certainly did not seem at all to have any effect on Sweeney Todd; for if he made corpses, he had some means of getting rid of them with the most wonderful expedition as well as secrecy.
‘He is a murderer,’ thought Tobias. ‘I know he is, although I have never seen him do the deed, or seen any appearance in the shop of a deed of blood having been committed. Yet, why is it that occasionally when a better-dressed person than usual comes into the shop he sends me out on some errand to a distant part of the town?’
Tobias did not forget, too, that on more than one occasion he had come back quicker doubtless than he had been expected, and that he had caught Sweeney Todd in some little confusion, and seen the hat, the stick, or perhaps the umbrella of the last customer quietly waiting there, although the customer had gone; and, even if the glaring improbability of a man leaving his hat behind him in a barber’s shop was got over, why did he not come back for it?
This was a circumstance which was entitled to all the weight which Tobias during his mental cogitation could give to it, and there could be but one possible explanation of a man not coming back for his hat, and that was that he had not the power to do so.
‘His house will be searched,’ thought Tobias, ‘and all those things which must of course have belonged to so many different people will be found, and then they will be identified, and he will be required to say how he came by them, which, I think, will be a difficult task indeed for Sweeney Todd to accomplish. What a relief it will be to me, to be sure, when he is hanged, as I think he is tolerably sure to be!’
‘What a relief!’ muttered Sweeney Todd, as he slowly opened the cupboard-door unseen by Tobias—’what a relief it will be to me when this boy is in his grave, as he really will be soon, or else I have forgotten all my moral learning, and turned chicken-hearted—neither of them very likely circumstances.
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